Iranian Persian Americans

Persian American Heritage Month – March 31 to April 1 more info


The first wave of immigration from Iran to the United States, corresponding to the period 1950-1977, was relatively insignificant in terms of numbers of immigrants. Annually, about 1,500 Iranians entered the United States as immigrants during this period, along with about 17,000 non-immigrants, including students and visitors. The vast majority of Iran’s emigrants left their homeland just prior to or as a result of the 1979 revolution, and are often considered de facto political refugees, though they lack that official designation. For the period 1978-1980, the average number of Iranians entering the United States as non-immigrants annually increased to more than 100,000; it is believed that the difference between the figures for the two waves of immigration is explained by the presence of exiles and refugees from the Islamic fundamentalist regime that overthrew the Shah.

Although non-Muslims form a tiny minority of the Iranian population in Iran, non-Muslim religious minorities appear to be overrepresented among Iranians in Los Angeles, where the largest Iranian population outside Iran is concentrated. The reason for the large number of religious minorities among Iranian immigrants compared to their proportion in the feeder population appears to be fear of or actual religious persecution under the fundamentalist Islamic government. For example, at its height, the Iranian Jewish population numbered 90,000 and enjoyed greater freedom and power than in any other Muslim country. But despite Ayatollah Khomeini’s assurances of their safety under his government, several Jewish leaders were killed during the regime’s early years, and 2,000 Jews leaving temple after Friday night services in 1983 were rounded up and imprisoned. By 1987, an estimated 55,000 Iranian Jews had received permission to emigrate. In 1992, 35,000 of those potential immigrants had settled in Los Angeles, New York City, and in Europe; however, the stream of Iranian Jewish immigrants had slowed considerably by the early 1990s and a few had even returned to Iran to reclaim their former lives and property as living conditions there eased.

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